Following negative offshore leads, the Australian share market opened lower, made some small gains around noon but was led down by a weaker Materials sector, before closing 0.5 per cent lower.
The S&P/ASX 200 index lost 21 points to finish at 4,303. On the futures market, the SPI is currently 29 points lower.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) lending finance data for February was released earlier today. The ABS has recorded personal finance down by 3.8 per cent with commercial finance falling 8.4 per cent.
Shares in Paladin Energy Limited (ASX:PDN) have slid today after the miner reduced its annual production targets. First quarter output from the Langer Heinrich mine in southern Africa was 10 per cent below expectations. Paladin says the shortfall was mainly due to early quarter commissioning bottlenecks which have now been rectified. Paladin now expects its full-year production to be about 2 per cent below the previously announced guidance of 7.1 million pounds. Shares in Paladin closed 1.66 per cent down at $1.775.
Dexus Property Group (ASX:DXS) has sold its US property portfolio to private equity company Blackstone for $US770 million. Dexus chief says the sale reflects its current strategy to exit non- core US markets. The real estate company will use part of the money from the transaction to launch a share buy-back program of up to $200 million. Shares in Dexus closed 0.56 per cent up at $0.905.
Westpac Banking Corporation (ASX:WBC) has been granted a banking licence by the Reserve Bank of India and plans to open its maiden branch in Mumbai.
M2 Telecommunications Group Limited (ASX:MTU) has inked a deal with Primus Telecommunications Group to acquire its Australian operations. The acquisition is said to be worth $192.4 million, boosting its size under the national broadband network.
Gunns Limited (ASX:GNS) has confirmed today that it will be proceeding with its $400 million equity raising which is aimed at reducing its debt facilities and may involve the placement of shares to new investors.
Shareholders in Whitehaven Coal Limited (ASX:WHC) have voted in favour of the $5.1 billion merger with Aston Resources Limited (ASX:AZT). Aston shareholders were also in favour of the alliance which includes the acquisition of coal company Boardwalk Resources.
Best and worst performers
The best performing sector was Telco Services adding 3 points to close at 1,159.
The worst performing sector was Materials, losing 115 points to close at 10,845 points.
The best performing stock in the S&PASX 200 was Linc Energy Limited (ASX:LNC), rising 18.69 per cent to close at $1.27. Shares in White Energy Company and Energy Resources of Australia also closed higher.
The worst performing stock was Energy World Corporation Limited (ASX:EWC), dropping 8.4 per cent to close at $0.545. Shares in Gryphon Minerals and Intrepid Mines also closed lower.
Gold is trading at $US1,647 an ounce.
Light crude is $0.64 down at $US102.19 a barrel.
The Australian dollar is buying $US1.0329.